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Gunn, Shakespeare, and the Elizabethans

Gunn, Shakespeare, and the Elizabethans

(p.45) Gunn, Shakespeare, and the Elizabethans
At the Barriers
Clive Wilmer
University of Chicago Press

This chapter on Gunn shows how his dramatic power and shape-making integrity reach back to his favorite poet. Everyone seems to agree that, in August Kleinzahler's words, “Gunn is an Elizabethan poet in modern dress.” For Michael Schmidt, “His English roots are deep in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries,” and the Elizabethan influence is apparent “even . . . in his . . .free-verse poems.” This influence is never academic: in Gunn's hands, the inherited forms and conventions seem utterly natural and breathe with his own modernity. As with Gunn's lovers, it is she who is the sexual aggressor—the Goddess of Love, no less—while the object of her attraction is one of Shakespeare's many young men who, addicted to masculine pursuits—war or, in this case, hunting—are wary of the bedroom. In the chapter “Cambridge in the Fifties,” Gunn relates his theory of the pose to “some of Shakespeare's characters, like the Bastard in King John and Coriolanus,” and it is clear that White's dramatic performances fueled this sense of real life as a drama. Gunn learned infinite things from Shakespeare—as most good English poets have—but this one seems to have been his own discovery.

Keywords:   Thom Gunn, free-verse poems, Shakespeare, Elizabethans, modernity, Cambridge

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